Oiling The Palm
Palm oil is an edible vegetable oil that comes from the fruit grown on the African oil palm tree.
The trees, which were previously found only in Africa, are now grown in Asia, North America and South America - coinciding with the increasing demand for the versatile oil.
The oil is often found in products such as bread, ice cream, and other processed foods, as it is trans-fat free, as well as some cosmetics such as makeup and soap.
Is Palm Oil bad for the environment?
The main issue with palm oil is that the farming of the palm tree can have an extremely harmful impact on the planet.
To produce palm oil, the fruit is collected from the trees, which can live an average of 28 to 30 years. However, once the trees grow too high, making it difficult to reach the fruit, they are cut down to make room for new trees - which contributes to deforestation of the rainforest.
To keep up with the high demand for the cheaply produced oil, acres of rainforest are being cut down - leading to a loss of animal habitat for endangered species.
In the past 16 years, the quest for palm oil has led to the death of an estimated 100,000 orangutans, according to research.
Other animals such as elephants, rhinos and tigers are also at risk.
The conversion of rainforest into plantations also contributes to climate change as the process releases high amounts of carbon emissions into the.
What about sustainable palm oil?
There is sustainable palm oil. the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) set up the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) in 2004, with industry partners and social-environmental organisations.
GreenPalm defines certified sustainable palm oil (CSPO) and palm kernel oil (CSPKO) as produced by palm oil plantations which have been independently audited and certified against the RSPO - Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil standard. Learn more about the RSPO.
The RSPO has developed a set of environmental and social criteria which companies must comply with in order to produce Certified Sustainable Palm Oil (CSPO). When they are properly applied, these criteria can help to minimize the negative impact of palm oil cultivation on the environment and communities in palm oil-producing regions.
The RSPO has more than 4,000 members worldwide who represent all links along the palm oil supply chain. They have committed to produce, source and/or use sustainable palm oil certified by the RSPO.
Today, many of the biggest producers of things such as chocolate, shampoo, chips, household cleaning products, cosmetics, and even pet foods are members of RSPO and claim their palm oil comes from sustainable sources.
But is it sustainable?
It is often difficult to tell which products contain palm oil though, because Australian guidelines allow more generic terms like "vegetable oil" or "vegetable fat" to be listed on product packaging instead.
And palm oil is the most widely used "vegetable oil" in the world.
Many have criticised RSPO, saying it provides cover for corporate palm oil stakeholders to carry on with business as usual.
In March, Greenpeace released a report naming companies which refused to publish the producers and mills they source their palm oil from, including RSPO members Johnson & Johnson, and Kraft-Heinz.
And now new research published in Environmental Research Letters has cast doubt on whether RSPO certification is achieving real improvements in the sustainability of palm oil production.
Environmental, social and economic performance between certified and non-certified plantations in Indonesian Borneo were compared by University of Queensland (UQ) researchers, including lead author Courtney Morgans.
"We found no significant evidence to suggest RSPO was better in achieving any of those metrics compared to non-certified plantations," Ms Morgans said.
"I thought that we would be able to detect some positive trends [but] I was personally surprised that we didn't see anything at all."
Palm oil is an economically important industry that provides employment in regions where there are few other alternatives for income.
The RSPO General Assembly are changing its principles and criteria, and Ms Morgans said better defined and enforced criteria could achieve better results.
"Although RSPO is not achieving quite what we want, it is still better than nothing at all, and it is also still the best mechanism that we have to enable these concessions to do better," she said.
"I think we've got an evaluation now that says what we've tried isn't good enough and we need to reform this and make it better."
So do I avoid buying Palm Oil?
Well that is hard but at the moment there is no denying that it is harmful to flora and fauna which is indefensible. So we avoid it at moonwish, although we have been caught out.
The problem is that it is so well disguised in so many products that even when we are alert, we sometimes slip up, and so will you. But you just have to keep on trying and accept that those sneaky little buggers will beat you sometimes.
Below is a list of what palm oil maybe called in an ingredient list. This list is not exhaustive either, there is upto 200 different ways of renaming palm oil.
|Elaeis guineensis||Palmitoyl tetrapeptide-3|
|Etyl palmitate||Palmityl alcohol|
|Hydrogenated palm glycerides||Sodium kernelate|
|Octyl palmitate||Sodium laureth sulfate|
|Palm fruit oil||Sodium lauryl lactylate/sulphate|
|Palm kernel||Sodium lauryl sulfate|
|Palm kernel oil||Sodium palm kernelate|
|Palmitic acid||Vegetable fat|
|Palmitoyl oxostearamide||Vegetable oil|
Please be careful with the above list. For example palm oil is a vegetable oil but so are a lot of other oils. As stated before, there a lots of ways to palm the oil so you have to get to know the products you use on a regular basis, which often means contacting the manufacturer or supplier.